Among the majority of the world’s civilizations, the systems of thought, institutions, ideologies, phenomena and cultures have been situated within some or the other historical perspectives. Similarly, the works of art, including literature, can never be torn away from history entirely. At times literature seems to be a verbal medium seeking either textuality in history or historicity in text. Chandra K Bhatt’s novel Kathmandu Days: The Blight and the Plight is appropriate one in this creed. This novel is a much needed work to eradicate the mysterious clouds that always surround Nepal and her political history.
Kathmandu Days can be taken as a big collage made up by patching together many small scraps of Nepal’s ferment political and social life. It is extremely enthralling to know the history of Nepal through the eyes of fictional characters that provide much larger ground to exhume the unexploited facts. The author has come up with an immense vision and desire to portray Nepal and her people and culture that have always been regarded as fugitive and something to be subdued under the political banner. He has gracefully juxtaposed facts with fiction, thus rendering the book worldwide significance.
The novel is a tale of a young boy, Nawin, of Nepali descent who spends his childhood in India living with his parents. He later migrates to Nepal seeking a secure future at a time when Nepal’s political and economic conditions were in a great turmoil. The narrative begins in culturally rich background depicting a vital domestic life of Laxmi and Dev living with their two sons; Nawin and Anil. Chandra unravels bit by bit all the idiosyncrasies (hypocrisy as well) of cultural life; how a woman in menstruation is nothing more than an impure flesh, how a boy of six desires to inherit anti-emotionalism from his father and hides his love for his mother and how the value of a childless mother comes to naught in such society. Religious ritual of animal sacrifice is also ridiculed.
Narrative passes with episodes after episodes overlapping rapidly. Readers would not realize when domestic setting gives way to much broader and grave issues of Nation. The author has skilfully combined the personal life of Nawin and the national scenarios of Nepal. Indeed, Nawin works as the mouthpiece of the commoners of Nepal who have been the worst victims of the foul politics played inside and outside of the country. Their role is no more than the mute spectators who although witness everything but rarely speak out.
The picturesque representation of the local landscapes of Nepal adds to the aesthetic beauty of the novel. At one time they seems to replicate the enigma, at other they prove to be a soothing escape from the pangs of life. Bhatt unbuttons this physical extremity of the local landscapes beautifully. He says
“Kathmandu was a place full of mystery and romance to Nawin. Without having ever seen it, he felt if his fate was tied to it by destiny…. It was nothing familiar like Delhi and Bombay, where so many of the people Nawin knew lived and worked. There was never a clue about how life would be in Kathmandu.”
With this uncertain fate, Nawin clings on his desire and struggles to find mental, emotional and economical solace in the province of Nepal. From here the narrative unfolds the wrenching scenarios caused by monarchical rule and corruption associated with their totalitarianism. Corruption has poured in every working machineries; education, journalism, civil service and Panchayat system, police force, army and even national games. Bhatt reveals a great deal about the political realities of National Games through which the monarchy has achieved immense monetary gains. Bhatt claims,
“The games were even more political than they appeared.”
The entire system was infected and the common thirst for job security could only meet either by appeasing the royals or greasing their palm. Nawin finds that
“To join a force you need a source.”
The strife between royal monarchy and communist leader is evoked in later pages. The seeds of anti-incumbancy were being planted all across the nation. Communist uprising led to the equal retaliation from the side of monarchy leading the communists to go underground. According to Bhatt,
“It was a very exciting time to be around in Kathmandu. Nawin had witnessed nothing of this sort when he was in India”
The pitiful state of journalism had deteriorated the situation. Journalism in Nepal shrinked into a mere body of sycophants of royals and they never published or broadcasted anything that would tarn the image of the king and his successors. It was a matter of great disappointment for Nawin and the commoners to get to know the real news of their own nation via foreign channels. Such an independent entity like journalism declined into a fragile body.
Part of the novel’s significance is based on its expression of the dream of middle-class life in Kathmandu. Middle-classes were still carrying the wings of desire to gain stability amidst the chaos. Bhatt has found the pulse of the collective population of Nepal. The widespread discontentment is again evident in a character named Dilip who has received his education in Bombay and whose mind remains in a constant war with the Panchayat system of Nepal. Dilip’s wrath over the foreign donors providing financial assistance to Nepal is something really serious to ponder upon.
The close Nexus between Nepal and India, both sweet and sour, has occupied considerable pages of the novel. Indeed, the connectivity between the two nations is not merely political but cultural as well. It would be interesting enough to realise how Nepal’s situation was made worse by the interfering nature of other nations, India being one among them. People of Nepali ethnicity across the globe went through intense predicaments and injustices during the uprising era. The monarchy was entirely inefficient to settle its own subjects. Ultimately, monarchy lost its vigour as repercussions of the constant onslaught. However, it is well said that in politics no name can entirely be written off from the political page of any nation. And Nepal is no exception.
The novel also encounters some of the renowned democratic leaders of the country such as Krishna Bhattarai, Ganesh Man Singh, Girija Koirala, Deuba who time to time steals the show. However, the narrative gives chilling effect when it starts dealing with the nightmarish day of the assassination of royal family of Nepal. Bhatt has successfully portrayed the prevailing distraught and mystery associated with the incident. He has tried to tie the loose ends by saying,
“Indeed, the criminality of the incident needed a more scientific enquiry.”
Moreover, Nepal got crushed due to the rising atrocities and men-slaughter by Maoists and the violence of Army inflicted upon the entire nation in retaliation. Such social conditions heralded a new era of confusion and disillusionment among the educated yet ill-equipped young crowd like Nawin. The author truly says,
“To kill or get killed for a small salary, inappropriate as it was, was often the only option they had.”
The highest point of the narrative is the fierce clash of ideologies between Nawin and Dilip that raises many questions. Interwoven with this story is the tale of Nawin’s parents and siblings in India to whom he travels time to time. This parallel story opens new vistas to see life and gives a vital experience to the readers.
Bhatt’s chiseled prose allows him to expose the endless treacherous hypocrisies of Nepal politics. The novel denies giving importance to any other perspective than the native one. Certainly, Kathmandu Days is a celebrated tale of blistering violence, multiple socio-cultural voices and the determination to re-do history.
Prity Barnwal | Columnist, Reviews
An avid reader and aspiring writer, Prity is a scholar of English Language & Literature. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org